PRINT Summer 1981


The Shock of the New

“WHEN WATCHING A MOVIE,” writes Robert Hughes, “one only has two choices—go or stay. With television, there is a third: change the channel.” Channel-switching, he claims, has accustomed us to receiving information as a montage of images. While the subject of The Shock of the New is modern art, its armature is undeniably television; it is a fast-paced collage of themes, ideas and names, pasted together with Hughesian wit.

After seeing most of the TV series from which the book evolved, it is impossible really to “read” it; one “hears” the sentences rumble forth in Hughes’ resonant Australian voice and “sees” the pictures tumble about kaleidoscopically as they did on the tube. Perhaps this is just as well, for Hughes’ approach to his subject is as art historically eccentric as it is entertaining.

The book is organized in eight theme chapters, none of which makes much linear sense (nor are they

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